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2017/05/03

When a woman loves a bird - Hatoful Boyfriend

Ah, birds! Such pretty, gracious and majestic creatures. Their songs lift our mood and their flight makes us dream of new worlds where we could be like them. They fascinate children and adults alike all throughout their lives, to the point where observing them has become a widespread hobby in quite a few countries. Many of us wish we could fly like them, play with them, pet them… and even date them.

Yes. Date them. Romantically.

Under this rather questionable premise stems Hatoful Boyfriend, a visual novel created by the insanity and genius of a single person. Hato Moa, a Japanese artist—and bird lover, presumably—, thought of a full alternative future where humans and pigeons must coexist in this world after birds began gaining an extraordinary intelligence at a fast rate. According to the game, it all started with Brian Pigeon, a pigeon who decided to create a blog—that can actually be found online—where he is “telling it how it is for pigeons everywhere.”

Steam's header for Hatoful Boyfriend.
In this environment, we play as Hiyoko Tosaka, a normal girl about to start her second year of high school at St. Pigeonation’s Institute, a school for birds—no Internet memes about lawyers involved. As per usual in visual novels, our goal in this game will be to choose a man to engage in a romantic relationship with and eventually earn his love, but these are no men. They are birds. Every single one of them. And not befriending any bird enough to develop a romantic relationship with them leads to a game over in the shape of being murdered by ninja birds. Again, as per usual.

In case we are too weirded out by dating birds, the game offers us the chance to briefly see a human portrait of the dateable characters.
As Hiyoko—that is, the player—decides whether she wants to go after her teacher, one of her classmates or the school’s doctor, among others, a surprisingly deep and emotional story unfolds. Subjects as heartbreaking as outliving your significant other, as horrifying as being slaughtered by your lover, as empowering as needing no man as long as girls can kick ass together, and as ridiculous as finding “the true pudding” all converge in an extraordinarily well-crafted and funny game that will pleasantly surprise anyone willing to look beyond the fact that, as many fans jokingly say, you are trying to “sex with pigeons”—although sex or even the possibility of it is never even mentioned.

The sense of humour in this game varies from one character to another, but Hiyoko's is usually very relatable.
While the stories of all characters are very enjoyable, even those that we may initially hate, the true plot unfolds upon completing all the available routes and “fulfilling an old promise,” as the game mysteriously calls it. Only then we will understand the true meaning of the game’s title in an epilogue known as Hurtful Boyfriend, where we will understand what links all characters together, why a human girl like Hiyoko was sent to an institute for birds and what is the deal with the many and unexplained details that were left hanging during the individual character routes. This extremely long and full-fledged epilogue succeeds at making us feel terror, claustrophobia and all kinds of sadness while staying true to its lame and casual humor and to the personality of the many characters that we—quite literally—came to love before. It eventually gifts us a bittersweet ending that is far more terrible than what we would have wanted, but it still feels satisfying and heartwarming. Truly a masterpiece of story-telling that steps away from the ‘happily-ever-after’ cliché, but nonetheless gives us hope for the future.

Even during the very dark epilogue, we can find little strokes of humor here and there, and characters continue to be whom they have always been.
But not everything is as flawless as it may seem. One of the main problems this game has is its localization. The English translation introduces very witty new words to match this avian universe—like “somebirdie”, which replaces the word “somebody” all throughout the game—and offers some really nice puns. However, it has been poorly corrected and we can often find typos, misspelt words and punctuation mistakes. For a game that is completely based on text, to have such errors is a big deal, because it doesn’t have other redeeming qualities to make up for it.

It is also worth mentioning that the Steam version of the game has recently been translated to different languages, and can now be played in French, Spanish and Italian, among others. While I can’t judge most of those languages, I have taken a quick look at the French and Spanish versions, and I must say that the French one seems to be truly good. It doesn’t seem to include the same kind of made-up words, but the typing and overall writing seems better.

A comparison of the same scene in English...
The Spanish version, however, is quite atrocious—and it deeply pains me to say that. It takes the mistakes found in the English version and takes them one step further, adding to the mix mistranslations that obviously come from a poor understanding of the English language. Not only is the punctuation and grammar wonky, but it’s also full of senseless false friends. I find it hard to believe this is a professional translation, so I guess Steam must have grabbed it from some kind of fan project. Either that or they hired the worst and cheapest translators they could find. I truly hope this horrendous translation is exclusive to the Steam version.

...and in Spanish. Extremely disappointing, I must say.
The other big flaw of Hatoful Boyfriend is the pacing of its story. As I said, it’s the epilogue where the game really shines, but, up to that point, what we find are a series of short stories that we may or may not like due to their tone. The average player may think that these short stories are all the game can offer and might therefore quit after going through a few of them if they haven’t met his expectations. Never does the game tell you that there’s more than meets the eye, and while wanting to surprise the audience is by no means a flaw, it may lead many people to never fully experience what Hatoful is trying to offer. And that would be a shame.

"Do X videos teach you such things? Maybe I should watch more." This is part of the epilogue. Those who don't play it are missing out.
Hatoful Boyfriend was originally developed for PC and exclusively in Japanese, but the amount of love it received from fans spawned an improved and high-quality version, an official release on gaming platforms like Steam and a translation to English for Western fans to enjoy. The game, weird as its premise may be, has continued to gain popularity ever since. A second game was created—Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star—and both were brought to true HD and released in PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. This further improved version included a brand-new character and route for the first game, which Hato Moa made available for free in her website for everyone to enjoy.

Original Japanese cover of the complete edition of the game, which included the epilogue.
As comics, plushies and merchandise are continuously being released due to the sheer popularity of the game—most of them being developed through crowdfunding, which is impressive—, Hatoful Boyfriend continues to grow. And I, for one, am very glad to have had the opportunity to date pigeons, because it’s been one of the most powerful narrative experiences of my life. That’s why I want to thank my dear friend and fellow writer Moni for harshly pushing me into playing this. She sure has amazing tastes and I’m glad she shares them with me.

…Anyone know where I can find a good bird sighting club?

Tech Specs
Title: Hatoful Boyfriend (Hatofuru Kareshi, はーとふる彼氏)
Category: Videogame
Genre: Visual Novel
Year: 2011
Developer: PigeoNation, Inc., Mediatonic
Platform: Steam (different versions available for PS4, PSVita, iOS and Android)
Players: 1
Country: Japan
Languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, French, Italian, Russian, German)
Voices: No

Best
-Funny, witty and well-written: the different stories range from funny, to heartbreakingly sad, to horrifyingly cruel.
-Lovable and deep characters with a lot to offer and much development to experience.
-Its rollercoaster of an epilogue.

Worst
-Some of the available languages have very subpar translations.
-The slow pacing may put some players off and make them quit before reaching the epilogue.

Grade: 9.2/10